Fancy a cup of tea?
I found this cup at a flea market. The original price was €5 and I ended up paying just €1. Don’t ask me how it happened, I am not good at haggling but it is “expected” at flea markets to negotiate a fair price for something you like. The truth was that I only had €3 in cash with me and I thought, I won’t be able to find anything for this price but I will have a look anyway. So I saw this dusty cup, amongst many other things, and I wasn’t sure wether I liked it or not, the porcelain seemed too thin and fragile and I wasn’t particularly attracted to the design. It even crossed my mind that it could have belonged to a children’s tea set but I took it anyway and I am happy that I did. On my way home I grabbed the cup again to look for details and suddenly I put it against the light and there it was, a vivid image of a geisha at the bottom of the cup! It was so unexpected that it felt a bit spooky at first, but once you see the image, it is so delicate that it becomes a beautiful surprise.
This artform is called Lithophane: “Lithophanes are three-dimensional translucent porcelain plaques which when backlit reveal detailed magical images” http://www.lithophanemuseum.org/lithophanes.html
Many historians argue that the inspiration for the idea came originally from China nearly a thousand years before in the Tang Dynasty but they were produced in Germany, France, Prussia and England around 1820’s.
“A lithophane presents a three-dimensional image -completely different from two-dimensional engravings and daguerreotypes that are “flat”. The images change characteristics depending on the light source behind them. Window lithophane panel scenes change throughout the day depending upon the amount of sunlight. The varying lightsource is what makes lithophanes more interesting to the viewer than two-dimensional pictures” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithophane
On another blog I found that this particular lithophane is from Japan and the featured geisha is called “Garland Geisha’ because of the wreath of flowers she has on her hair. I think it is amazing how many details you can get from this image… http://www.lithophane.org.uk/japanese/japanese.html
Besides the beauty of the cup I also love the way something as simple as a cup leads to the discovery of new things, how it opens a new world of knowledge and interests and how your impressions can change when you look at things in a different way…
To end up the afternoon I made a delicate Chinese Lung Ching, poured it into my new cup and waited to until the Geisha smiled at me again!
Last week I visited a charming Japanese teahouse in Barcelona called Usagui (which means Rabbit in English), a lovely place where you can find a nice selection of Japanese teas as well as a variety of sweets and desserts (including mochi!).
I ordered a Sencha Fukamushi, an exquisite deep steamed and spring tea that I particularly loved. Fukamushi refers to the steaming time of the tea leaves in the production process of the Sencha, being this one the longest one (two minutes approximately). This is a beautiful tea: grassy, rich in flavour with a buttery feel to it and a vivid green colour.
My tea came in a small clay teapot in a square wooden tray. It had been already brewed, as they took care of the water temperature and the steeping time of the tea beforehand. Then I kindly asked for a second and third infusion and they gave me precise instructions on how to do it each time. For the second infusion they suggested 80 seconds and then serve “until the last drop”. For the third time, only 30 seconds and then pour again, “until the last drop” and so I did. It is said that the last drops are the most important ones as they are more concentrated in flavour and can even determine the final taste of the tea…
I also tried an iced apple kocha (black tea) and a fruit pannacotta. Both very delicate and refreshing.
The teahouse is very minimalistic and intimate, ideal for a peaceful afternoon with a nice cup of Japanese tea…
Thank you Usagui, until next time!
Usagui. Santjoanistes 28, 08006.
Cold brewing is a very simple method to prepare iced tea. As simple as it sounds it consists in brewing tea leaves in cold water. The chemical extraction of the tea is slower and it leaves its original flavour almost intact. The result is a smoother, less bitter and lighter tea due to less caffeine and catechins extracted in the process.
As the days are getting warmer and sunnier, this is a lovely time to make cold-brewed iced teas. Here are five easy steps to prepare them:
- Find jar or a jug preferably with a lid.
- Add an equivalent of one and a half or two teaspoons of tea for each cup or glass.
- Fill with cold water and let it steep for the night. You can also play with the brewing time and choose between 5 to 12 hours depending on how strong you like it.
- Drain it and add some ice cubes, fresh fruits or aromatic herbs.
- Serve chilled and enjoy!
Tip: You can use any tea you would like (white, green, blue) but remember loose-leaf tea is always the best choice!
There are obvious differences between a mug and a cup in terms of shapes, materials, sizes and styles, but one of the main ones is that a cup is usually used with a saucer and a mug without it. However, I personally think the differences go a bit further…
For me a mug is synonymous of comfort; it is the experience of just making the usual cup of tea –even sometimes half awake, half asleep- early in the mornings. It is also the choice for a lazy Sunday when you are reading the newspaper of just checking emails, staying late in bed and having a tasty brunch. I pick a mug when it is cold outside and I need a big “cup of tea” to warm me up or when I want to carry it with me while working around the house.
I choose a cup when I want to think about my tea, when I want the experience of drinking it to be special and delicate. It is like a boost as it definitely makes it taste better. A cup involves choosing the “right” one for that special tea or occasion and then serving it. It is a more sophisticated pleasure I guess. In a cup every sip counts, the brightness and the sound of the porcelain make everything even more special.
Cups and mugs are there to please our palate and mood, as they are a great complement to our tea. I believe that, although it might feel automatic, we are very careful about our choice, as we know it will “define” the way we drink and enjoy our tea.
We are thrilled to appear on the cover of Venue Magazine’s May issue with an article about Iced tea for the summer! It is written in Spanish but it has beautiful images and many recommendations that you cannot miss. If you have any questions about it or want to know more, please feel free to contact me. I will be more than happy to hear from you!
Find the complete article here!
Enjoy and happy Friday!
Michael Harney refers to Gyokuro’s aroma as: “Very spinachy and seaweedy, dark and decidedly vegetal, with none of the lemon sheen of Sencha. Lovely and soothing, like a hearty spinach soup simmering on the kitchen stove”.Could you think of a better way of describing the aroma and essence of this tea..?
Gyokuro is one of the finest and most expensive teas in Japan as it is considered to be the highest grade of tea in the country. Its production demands expertise and careful handling. It involves shading the tea crops for two or three weeks before the harvest begins and it’s precisely this procedure what gives this tea most of its precious qualities. The shade makes the photosynthesis process to reduce and the plant to produce more chlorophyll and higher levels of theanines, making the tea so rich in flavor. It also gives the leaves the distinctive deep green color and a less astringent infusion compared to other Senchas. The result is a beautiful pale green liquor (also known as “Jade Dew”) with a mellow sweet taste and a medium body. Harney describes it as “The lush green flavour of the freshest steamed spinach, the cooked flavour of roasted walnuts, and very slight note of sulphur. Filling and sustaining”.
I have tried this tea several times and I must say that each time it surprises me as if it were the first one. Once you try it you won’t forget about it. Similar to when you taste a fine champagne or an exquisite perfume… So many years of tradition and fine craftsmanship can’t go wrong…